US and Europe's increased pressure in the Middle East political scene after Hariri's Assassination.
Bassem Chit- February 22nd 2005
Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, the bush administration has declared a world-wide war on terror, and they decided that the word terrorist falls on anyone who disagrees with them or they have conflicting interest with the US.
The bush administration set itself as the guardian of western values of democracy openness, and freedom of expression, and as such guardian they have the right to topple any regime, or create a war, or enforce sanctions on any country “they” consider is not fit within these values. In simple terms “either you’re with us, or against us”
Syria was never away from being fingered by the US, Syria held one of the main political poles in the region especially since it had an input in the Palestinian political scene, and also since it controls two fronts in the Arab-Israeli conflict (Joulan and South Lebanon) and one of the main aspects why Syria doesn’t want to leave Lebanon is because they would loose a considerable political card in the peace process, and also there are more then 1 million Syrian worker in Lebanon, and Lebanon represents a get-away from the sanctions forced on Syria by the US. So a large section of the Syrian economy depends on them staying in Lebanon. Actually Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon means the end of the Baa’th regime.
During the war on Iraq, and the first stages of the occupation, and still the US has repeatedly attacked Syria for helping “insurgent” groups to flee through Syria or to attack from Syria, or even to transport weapons through the Iraqi-Syrian borders.
After the elections in Iraq and in Palestine, Syria has lost a lot from its position as a main and decisive political pole in the region and especially by the rising tensions between Syria and Europe. And the Baa’th regime is forced more and more to cooperate with US demands.
Syrian ambassador in the US Imad Moustapha said: "Whenever the United States came to Syria asking us for assistance, on issues they wanted our assistance ... we immediately engaged with the United States,"
"This has included our support for the elections in Iraq, our securing the borders. We have done everything possible to secure the borders between Syria and Iraq.”
The assassination of ex-Prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut came as another blow to Syria, since the word on the street in Lebanon is that Syria organized the assassination, and the US is using the assassination to weaken more and more the Syrian regime, and is also using the rising tension between Syria and Europe.
Bush’s visit to Europe falls also within this purpose, National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Bush will also give a major speech that "will focus on his vision of a united trans-Atlantic community, working together to promote freedom and democracy, particularly in the broader Middle East." Bush knows that the US cannot go along in declaring a new war in the Middle East without Europe’s support, and this can be translated in what Bush said: "My first goal is to remind both Americans and Europeans that the trans-Atlantic relationship is very important for our mutual security and for peace,"
And one the first direct steps in forming an alliance with Europe on the issue of the middle is the 1559 UN resolution which was drafted by France and the US, which class for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops out of Lebanon.
The US didn’t attack Syria of being behind Hariri’s assassination but they said that Syria’s presence in Lebanon is causing too much instability, which is one of the main causes for Hariri’s death. Condoleezza Rice said: "But the Syrians -- given their position in Lebanon, given their interference in Lebanese affairs, given the fact that their forces are there, given the terrorists that operate in southern Lebanon with Syrian forces in close proximity to them -- does put on the Syrians a special responsibility for the kind of destabilization there."
What is surprising about the US response is that it wasn’t fast, and the bush administration seems like it is playing the center between Europe and France in particular from one side and Syria, which gives the US more advantage in controlling the political scene.
It is obvious for Europe that the US will never embrace the international criminal court they hold so dear, which means they have to hold a harder front against Syria and Iran, just to avoid loosing their interests in the Middle East. And the Bush administration is using this factor in putting Europe more and more on the frontline in the Middle East, where at the same time it still reminds Europe that the US can always resort to military action. And they proved that in Iraq, and they didn’t deny such actions when talking about disarming Iran from its nuclear weapons, and also they mentioned about harder measurements to be taken against Syria if it does not withdraw its 13,000 troops from Lebanon "we're very serious about this." Bush and Chirac exclaimed. And one of Bush’s main points from visiting Europe is to meet with Russian officials to try and stop Russia’s support for Iran’s nuclear program and as well try to stop Russia’s proposed sale of surface-to-air missiles to Syria.
Bush said he would talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about actions widely viewed as a retreat from democracy. "I mean, he's done some things that [have] concerned people," Bush said.
So the US administration as well as Europe and especially France are pretty serious on actually limiting more and more Syria’s control, and definitely intend to end the Baa’th regime in Syria, the United States pulled Margaret Scobey, its ambassador from Syria on Tuesday. "It's a very strong signal to return one's ambassador," Rice said. So the US is ascending the tensions against Syria, and Syria knows it but both ends from the Syrian regime is a dead end. If they go with the US plans and demands, this would definitely mean the end of the Baa’th in Syria, and if they don’t they will have to in a confrontation with the US and Europe, and they know that it will also end in the death of the bath regime in Syria.
But I still don’t think that Syria is first on the US agenda, Iran still takes that place, and the rising tensions between the US and Europe from one side and Syria on the other, means harder fronts on the Iranian front. And Iranian and Syrian officials declared that they will try to hold a united front against US threats, and then Iranian official declared that what is between Iran and Syria is common interests and not a united front. And obviously Iran is trying to escape US threats and its alliance with Syria would be like an open gate from the US to more fierce attacks on Iran.
So Syria is actually stuck on so many fronts, and it is more and more being isolated from the region, and which can be translated in a great confusion within the Syrian administration, where the Syrian Information minister would state that “if Syria withdrawed some of its troops out of Lebanon and Hariri got killed, what will happen if it withdraws all of its troops?” and at the same time Lebanon is filled with rage against the Syrian presence. And still there has been no clear position taken from Syria to deal with Hariri’s assassination.
Actually there is no way out for the Syrian regime, the problem lies is what happens next? The Lebanese elections will play a decisive role in this situation, and the opposition is holding a strong front against the government which is more and more loosing grip of the situation and it may resort to violence, and at the same time the opposition, even if it has declared that they will only go with democratic methods, but given the history of the leaders of the Lebanese opposition where most of them are war lords, exactly like the government, I think they will benefit from the situation, and may use it to push for a more violent confrontations, and whatever happens in the Lebanese scene, it will definitely be used by the US to attack Syria.
And also Syrian officials have declared that if the Lebanese parliament decides that Syrian troops should be out of Lebanon, they will go out. Which can be taken that Syria is loosing all of it cards. If a war breaks out in Lebanon, which is not a far possibility especially with the rising racist tides fed by the conflict between the government and the opposition, it will not be a strange thing to see US or European troops in the country especially that the opposition are calling for support from Europe and the US. This will definitely mean the end of Syria’s baa’th regime.
The possibilities are a lot, especially with the changes happening in the Lebanese political scene, and the inability of Syria and it’s pro-government in Lebanon to deal with the situation. But I think things will get clearer during the coming few weeks and more definitely after the Lebanese elections
The Lebanese Opposition
The Lebanese opposition is mainly formed from a wide range of organizations and coalitions, it took a start in the past few years, by the rise of the FPM (Free Patriotic Movement) led by Michel Aoun, which mainly can be classified as neo-Liberal Lebanese Nationalists, there politics can be generally represented by the slogan “Lebanon is for the Lebanese” and they call from the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Another part of the opposition is Qornet Shehwan which gathers a range of Christian parties, and they called for better Syrian-Lebanese relations, and they have raised their speech into a more confrontational one through the past months especially after the 1559 UN resolution.
And one main character in the Lebanese opposition is the PSP (Progressive Socialist Party) President and Druze leader Walid Junblat who recently shifted into a total confrontation with the government and Syria, and by this unifying the opposition under the Bristol agreement. This led the Democratic left a Lebanese version of European social democrats to join the opposition.
And before Hariri’s death, Hariri was leaning more and more towards the opposition but also trying to hold the center. Hariri who was ex prime minister in Lebanon, represents the neo-liberal policies in the country from privatization plans, and rebuilding Down-Town Beirut which is now owned by a company he started called Solidere, and owns 10% of the shares in Downtown Beirut.
So the Lebanese opposition maintains a line combining between the Far-right, passing through center right, till it reaches the center left.
And the center left in it which can be represented by the Democratic left is leaning more and more towards the right, especially after they adopted the last opposition statement which calls for an international intervention and also calls for the international community to keep an eye on Lebanon.
After Rafik el Hariri’s death, a long rooted racism which is present in the Lebanese society is more and more being used by the opposition to gain more votes in the coming elections, and through-out the past 3 days there has been at least 2 attacks by anonymous groups on Syrian workers. And you might also hear words on the street saying “Syrians are like animals, they need to be out” or “all Syrians need to be out, cause whenever they are around they are only putting themselves in danger”
So the Lebanese opposition is more and more moving towards using such feelings in their political campaigns by simply not pointing out this dangerous problem.
And the main problem in this opposition that the majority of it is war-lords from the last Lebanese civil war, and while the government is being more and more cornered and may resort to violence to maintain the situation, they might benefit from it and push for more violent conflicts between them and the government, especially that they are preparing for a demo on Monday. And actually it is obvious on the streets that both the government and the opposition might resort to an armed conflict at some point. And probably drive the country into another civil war.
Walid Junblat said in the past few days that all taboos have fallen, and everything is possible. And he even called for a foreign mandate over Lebanon.
Another problem with it is it is clearly trying to bet on the US and France, but the problem with that is that the US and France main target is Syria, and they simply care less about what happens in Lebanon, and it is very obvious that they are not giving the support that the opposition is requiring from them. When the opposition is clearly accusing Syria in killing Hariri, the US and France is still abstaining from doing that.